I have huge admiration for anyone who does anything technical in the theatre. My admiration partly comes from the fact that I am not very good at it. In fact, I’ll go further and say I should not be let near anything technical in a theatre and here’s an example.
When I was starting out, I was backstage in a theatre one day when the stage manager rushed up to me and said, “I’m desperate. The fly man has gone off sick, can you operate the curtain for me – there’s no one else?” I’d never pulled a curtain before but wanting to help I said I’d be happy to. We climbed to the fly gallery where the curtains are pulled and he explained the small lights were red for stand by and green for Go! And that was pretty well it – easy as pie. It was the first night of a production of The Rivals and the buzz in the audience was already loud and strong.
I was nervous but ready. The red light came on and I prepared my rope. The green came up and off I went and the rope whirred away. I thought to myself – this is taking a while – so I looked down at the stage. I couldn’t understand what was happening because the beautiful red velvet curtains were billowing out on the front of the stage and overflowing into the audience. The bar that they were tied to was now so low that the actors could wave at the audience. In a flash I realised I had been pulling on the wrong rope. So, I stopped and started pulling the other. Actually, I pulled on it so much that it rose very quickly and flew out of sight of the audience until it hit the main grid with a resounding clunk. And that is how the production began. I was never asked again and I told myself to put my energy into what happens on the stage with the performers.
You may not know why it is considered bad luck to whistle in a theatre. In the old days the ropes were pulled by sailors and the commands were given by ship’s whistles – hence the need not to make a similar sound. I bet that cast would have liked to pipe me to the ceiling!
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